"A true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude."
— Oscar Wilde
Is it possible to be a true gentleman in American public life any longer?
I ask because offense-taking has become so commonplace in American politics that our surprise no longer surprises us; our shock no longer shocks us. We may be numb to the whole political affair, yet we are still expected to feign pangs of righteous indignation every news cycle. Even our private moments of solitary silence and indifference to the entire political charade have been branded as a sin against almighty democracy.
In such a world, how can one not be unintentionally rude?
Politics has intruded on and polluted our basic sense of propriety. Our etiquette has been infused with so many political implications that it is now mostly, if not merely, a means of political control rather than a natural art of free and civilized men.
For instance, under our current political etiquette, if I were to correctly insult an individual person, I would be seen as attacking entire groups of people or even accused of erasing someone's precious little sense of identity altogether.
Tell a politician that he is horrid, and soon you will be accused of attacking all his supporters also as horrid little toadies who, by some sad evolutionary hiccup, are now carrying their excrement in their skulls and their brains in their rectums. Tell a man he is stupid, and soon you will be charged with attacking his family, his friends, his political party, his religion, his race and his sexuality. Tell a woman she is ugly, and soon you will discover you have attacked all women as part of some 1,000-year patriarchal conspiracy.
Of course, this is not a defense of calling politicians horrid, men stupid, and women ugly in a careless way. This is not a defense of rudeness without cause or tact. However, when a gentleman does possess good reason, he may be as intentionally rude, churlish, impudent, offensive and ill-mannered as he wishes for his desired effect. Let any political mob or mob boss who thinks otherwise go jump in a lake.
Yet the problem still remains: Our etiquette is much too much a function of our politics. Insult one person, and you have actually insulted the masses.
Our democracy, it seems, is full of delicate little snowflakes quick to take vicarious offense for one another in their pitiful attempts to receive unearned merit and social standing. Though I will admit a single snowflake can be unique, beautiful, delicate, and even a reflection of the divine in its own right, once snowflakes start becoming useful to one another and working in unison, they tend to run the risk of becoming a blizzard.
So how does a gentleman stomach such a snowstorm? Face it down, charge it directly and attack the blizzard itself — i.e., intentionally attack the political ideas that transform "the people" into a weaponized democratic mob of fragile imbecility in the first place.
So, let us now insult "the people."
In particular, I wish to insult them because they have made it, again, so difficult for a gentleman to be intentionally rude in a discreet manner. And they have done this because of their biggest collective flaw.
What flaw? That "the people" are so unforgivingly selfish. They always think it's about them when they go about caring for (and ruling over) others. They won't shut up about it.
Usually, selfishness is defined as never thinking of others and only doing for oneself, but selfish behavior can also manifest itself in a much nastier, more insidious form than a few one-off, egotistical twerps. Selfishness can, indeed, be a very collectivist affair.
Allow me to turn again to Oscar Wilde for his advice on the matter:
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognizes infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish to require of one's neighbor that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.
With this in mind, who can deny "the people" as a political mob are some of the most selfish oafs to ever grace God's green earth?
I'm sure those defenders of "Our Democracy" will try to deny it, but have they not watched the American people's behavior during election season? Have they not witnessed the abject dishonesty and stupidity of the candidates and their most ardent supporters?
Have they not seen the huddled masses from sea to shining sea yearning, not for liberty, but for more and more power over one another to "create an absolute uniformity of type" out of what once was a nation of free men?
Have "our" democracy's defenders not caught a whiff of their own political manure meant to fertilize our diverse fields of American wildflowers into a collectivist regimentation of red, red roses?
I have, and as the snowflakes of America continue their collectivist blizzard, I can only hope their self-serving snowstorm will freeze the ground solid under their feet and turn their gardens into icy graveyards full of red rose headstones.
Then, after a long winter, hopefully, spring will provide a rebirth of diverse and beautiful flowers enough to allow gentlemen to lose their unintentionally rude mood.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and currently, the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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